I accept that Mad Men has become a high class soap. Probably it always was, but in series one, it hinted at drama of a different level. However, the distinctions between soap and drama are often far from clear (Tennessee Williams, Faulkner, Edward Albee all share a taste for melodramatic situations and family squabbles, for example). Directors like Douglas Sirk used soap situations to make beautifully shot films and explore social issues. Mad Men 4, soap or not, continues to be excellent television, still beautifully scripted, always compelling viewing.
The first couple of episodes start slowly, but once the series gets into its stride, charting Don's loss of timing as a business and creative ad man and with the women he chases, it exerts its previous dramatic grip. Don, separated, goes into partial decline, until saved by Peggy, the character with whom he is most closely aligned - spiritually. The magazine articles like to focus on Don (and Joan), but the Peggy character is really at the heart of Mad Men - her intelligence, her attention to her work, her strength and the way she deals with her problems. If I may offer some film comparisons: A Star is Born, the aging male pop star in decline, the young female one in the ascent. Another analogy to consider is the relationship in Saturday Night Fever. A well dressed talented man, with a troubled personal life and a feisty girl on the up in Manhattan. He wants her as a lover, but in the end they shake hands and become friends. Are these too the trajectories of Don and Peggy - a fine romance or a moving friendship?
As in previous Mad Men series, the secondary characters all get their own stories in different episodes. Pete, Roger, Joan, Lane - superbly acted, excellently scripted. There is also much fun and drama to be had from Don's many and varied secretaries.
Series 4 takes us into the mid sixties, with the clothes, sets, music all changing. Beatnik parties and Simon and Garfunkel. Where Mad Men is ultimately going after this series I don't know, but I hope the show goes out in a blaze of glory, dying young, like a 60's pop star, because I never want to see Don in big lapels and a kipper tie, drunk, the wrong side of middle-aged and not cool anymore, slavering over women half his age. Jeez, I've got my own life if I want that!
Mad Men 4 - it's still 'must watch' television.